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Social vs. Influence Motivated - The Motive Center
November 20th, 2004
11:19 pm


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Social vs. Influence Motivated
tipgardner raised an interesting point on one of the older posts:

I know a fair number of published writers, best selling and otherwise, and I do find, more often than not, that they are more solitary, more socially fit to not fit, than many non-writers. ...

Or, as Lawrence Clark Powell said:

"Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of a writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking."

This excellent point appears to contradict my finding that published (and probably most amateur) writers are motivated to influence. If you want to influence, why are you hiding in your room?

Two reasons: (1) Desire to influence isn't the same as skill in influencing; (2) lots and lots of self-management. More after the cut!

The first point--desire isn't the same as skill--is apparently less than obvious. When I talk about the Influence motive under its academic name (the Power motive), people immediately say "I can't have that, I'm not power-mad" or they say "I don't have any power." Neither relates. The Influence/Power motive is about wanting influence, not having it. You can have someone strongly motivated, who works very hard at influencing, but is extremely bad at it, say because they lack the emotional intelligence or interpersonal understanding that would allow them to "read" their audience accurately.

I knew a colleague once who wanted to persuade me to join her wine-and-cheese club. She thought she was being subtle, but I realized at once she wanted more members to divide the costs; as a founding member she would pay less to bring in new people. I told her I wasn't interested, which I wasn't, not being a drinker at all. She pressed me, suggesting that this was a great way to learn about wine, presumably because she thought I was ignorant and thus afraid to join such a club. I declined again, saying I didn't really want or need to learn about wine tasting. Incredibly, despite my pretty clear denial, she tried again. I was forced to inform her that, due to family reasons, I did not drink at all, thus rendering a wine-and-cheese club sort of pointless! She certainly wanted to influence me, but she missed the signals I was sending her, which I assure you were not equivocal!

Now what does this mean for writers? Well, people who have a lot of this motive want to influence, and if they are unsuccessful they will get frustrated, and perhaps seek other ways to get the job done--like writing. Alternatively, you could be shy or introverted, and in that case Influence motive will work to push you away from public speaking. Why? Because you are more sensitive to making a mistake! The non-influence-motivated may not be aware of their impact, you see. So someone who wants to influence but is afraid of looking foolish may turn to writing, which after all is much more controllable.

Now the second point: Activity Inhibition is a characteristic that indicates your ability to manage your motives--the brakes for the engine. The average published writer in my study was WAAAAAY over the national average. The mean in the normal American population is 1.75; standard deviation is .25. That is, if you are 2.0 or greater on this measure, you are significantly above average, statistically speaking, and in fact are in the top 15% on this measure on the bell curve. 2.25, two standard deviations, should put you around the top 5%, and so on. The average published writer in my study had eighteen. So novelists, particularly, can sit alone in their offices because they can postpone the satisfaction a long time or channel the motivation in productive ways. They're not hiding in their offices because they lack the desire to influence--they just can keep from being impulsive about the way they do it!

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(4 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 12:45 am (UTC)
This is interesting if you take a look at the way fandom, in particular the fan fiction element, works. One of the touchiest issues in every fandom I've written in has been reviews, ie the outward sign that the writer is having some sort of influence. Anyone can post their writing onto the internet, but without reviews there is no sign that they are having any impact. Bear in mind also, that the majority of reviews tend to be positive, as most people will not review a fic unless they like it.

I suppose the point I'm trying to suggest is that most fan fiction writers are less like published writers in this regard and more like the general population, otherwise they wouldn't care about reviews.
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 08:50 am (UTC)

Caring about reviews?

Interesting point on fanfiction, and I am not surprised. Actually, contrary to your point, most published writers I know are exactly the same as fan fiction writers in this respect--they care a lot about reviews, even if they are trying not to. Look at Anne Rice's incredible screed on Amazon, in response to some negative posters who were not even professional critics! I'm on the Sisters in Crime listserv, and there's a significant percentage of it devoted to "I got a great review!" or "how do I get rid of the bad reviews on Amazon?" Likewise, Anne Rice triggered a lot of discussion on various mystery writer listservs my wife is on, mostly about how unprofessional she was, but it did hit a nerve.

There are a few writers who claim not to pay attention to critics, but I think most of them are either substituting something else as a measure of response (like sales, or a group of colleagues), or they are using that self-control thing to stay away from them. I think this is at the heart of the "unprofessional" comment--Anne Rice should have controlled herself and ignored them.

I think I am coming around to saying that the difference might be in the speed and strength of the reaction rather than whether they actually care as such. The writers in my study were more likely to be able to control their impulsive response to negative reviews (they care, but hold back), whereas the writers on the 'net, who are likely to be influence-motivated but unlikely to be as well managed, are going to react more strongly.
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 10:09 am (UTC)

Re: Caring about reviews?

I think what I was thinking of was more the delayed gratification idea, that professional writers are prepared to spend a considerable time on their own, writing, with no evidence of influence, before publication, which may happen years down the line. With fanfic, particularly in those fandoms where it is common to post chapter based fics as works in progress, the evidence of influence is much more immediate. So much so, that I've seen writers make comments along the lines of "unless I get x reviews on this chapter, I won't post any more of the fic".

I thought Anne Rice's rant was mind-boggingly unprofessional, not to speak of the delicious irony of her declaration not to need an editor, in a post that was so badly formatted it was virtually unreadable.
[User Picture]
Date:November 21st, 2004 12:22 pm (UTC)

Re: Caring about reviews?

We're in perfect agreement here, including on Anne Rice--I was staggered that she could reply in such an unprofessional and pointless way.
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